On Sunday, a security guard spotted a leak at an enormous Duke Energy coal ash pond. It’s now estimated that 82,000 tons of coal ash flowed into the Dan River along with 27 million gallons of water. Matt Wasson, the program director of Appalachian Voices pictured here collecting a water sample, warns the river’s dozen or so fish species are at risk:
Wasson, calling the incident “a massive disaster,” said six inches of coal ash covered the bottom of the river Tuesday about two miles downstream from the spill site. “It’s like a lava flow moving slowly toward Danville on the bottom of the river,” Wasson said.
Selenium toxicity could be a concern for humans for months or years as a result of the spill, Wasson said. Arsenic could reduce the number of fish available in the Dan River for years, harming the food chain on which they depend for food.
“It’s fair to say possible impacts of this on fish populations could extend for years,” he said.
When politicians talk about the cost of coal energy vs. clean energy, they never (OK, maybe if their name is Jim Moran or Sheldon Whitehouse) talk about costs like these. What’s the cost of threatening the Dan River’s drinking water and entire fish population? When politicians like State Sen. Tom Garrett claim to be terribly concerned about the impacts of wind power on birds, why aren’t they outraged that bald eagles will now be eating coal ash-poisoned fish out of the Dan River?
And let’s not forget the horrifying impacts of coal power on human health even when everything’s going right:
Mercury contamination is so widespread that one out of every six pregnant women have mercury levels in their blood high enough for levels in the fetus to reach or surpass the EPA’s safety threshold for mercury.
According to the latest government data, this means that 630,000 children are born each year with a strong chance of developing serious mercury-related health effects.
According to the American Lung Association, 24,000 people a year die prematurely because of pollution from coal-fired power plants. And every year 38,000 heart attacks, 12,000 hospital admissions and an additional 550,000 asthma attacks result from power plant pollution.
And coal plants get to inflict all this damage without paying a cent for it. It’s called privatizing profit and socializing the risk.
Tell the Environmental Protection Agency you support strong new limits on carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants.